The Pandemic Is Making Us All Suckers for Nostalgia

The Pandemic Is Making Us All Suckers for Nostalgia

  • November 18, 2020
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PHOTO: PAUL ZIMMERMAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

2020 has been one hell of a year. The pandemic is hard on everyone, especially for those who are personally battling with the virus, but also for the rest of us who have to continue to keep up with the changing world.

As a 19-year-old student, I found it particularly challenging to adjust to online classes. Being stuck in my room and having to listen to virtual lectures made me lose focus and motivation. And to cope, I began falling down a rabbit hole of nostalgia. I revisited favorite shows and movies from my childhood. First, it was Big Time Rush, then the Camp Rock movies, followed by Wizards of Waverly Place

I also found myself going through my family’s hard drive full of photos we’ve collected over the years and I rewatched old videos from our holiday trips to places like New York and Hong Kong. 

Going back to happier times gave me the comfort I needed when things were looking bleak. It was like a little escape for me, to ignore what was happening at the moment. And it turns out that I’m not alone — other people are reliving their childhoods too. 

A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on entertainment choices found that more than half of consumers reported finding comfort in nostalgic content. 

According to Rutgers University Assistant Professor of Psychology Andrew Abeyta, turning to nostalgia benefits our psychological well-being, especially during times of crisis. 

“[With the pandemic], lots of changes are happening really fast and there’s a lot of uncertainty with respect to our future. So, we want to get rid of all the stress and negative feelings we’re experiencing. And nostalgia is a place that we can go to, at least to temporarily feel better,” Abeyta told VICE. 

He said that nostalgia has historically been seen as something negative, as it would be associated with things like depression and loneliness, but this outlook has changed.  

“What we’re finding out now is that nostalgia isn’t causing those things, but instead, people are recruiting nostalgia to combat these negative feelings.” 

Abeyta also pointed out that for many of us, the pandemic has left a lot of things up in the air, which is why we have been enjoying all these things from the past. We long for familiarity.

“Some of our goals may be on shaky ground. And our goals give us purpose. So if we’re feeling as though life no longer makes sense, we might reach back to nostalgia to help restore that sense of purpose,” he said. 

Curious about other people’s trips down memory lane, I asked others what they’ve been playing, watching, and revisiting this year. 

When I was younger, I watched a lot of shows like Friends, Gilmore Girls, and New Girl, because I found comfort in the characters and escaping into their world. I was pretty lonely as a teenager and enjoyed the familiarity of the characters, especially Rory Gilmore, who I related a lot to.

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Photo: Courtesy of Kira N.

These shows brought me so much comfort during lockdown. There was a sense of predictability and stability in coming back to them. I knew exactly what would happen, their lives were normal, and I guess it helped me ignore what was going on around me for a while.

Lockdown has been lonely and long in Melbourne so sometimes, I’d just leave them playing in the background while I did other stuff because I liked hearing the mindless chatter you usually get in public. 

I was a pretty avid Minecraft kid back in primary school. Besides playing the game almost every day, I would watch Minecraft YouTubers play through the game too. It was a way to destress and chill with my friends while going on a little adventure in a world full of blocks. It was a form of escape. 

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I came back to Minecraft when the pandemic hit because my friends and I were bored. It allowed me to interact with them, doing something together even though we weren’t face to face. We would always be on a call while playing, so it gave us our daily dose of human interaction. 

Playing Minecraft again allowed me to feel like I was 11 years old, without a care in the world. It was a much-needed break since I had been working really hard in school. 

During the pandemic, my sisters and I always find ourselves looking for something to watch. After exhausting all the new films and shows on Netflix, we looked at our DVD collection and came across our Harry Potter DVDs. The last time we watched a Harry Potter movie was years ago — I used to watch the films in a marathon every year until I outgrew them — so we felt it was a good time to revisit them for the nostalgia, and also just because they’re feel-good movies. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Pavitra Sankaran

The films reminded me of good times from the past and served as a means of distraction from the trying times of the present.

The feeling you get when you see your favorite character again, or when you recite your favorite scene line by line, or sing along with the timeless score, is very reassuring.

When I was young, it was all about taking in the plot and the characters. But watching it back now, it’s more about turning to a  familiar story with familiar characters that make me feel at home. It’s that feeling of knowing what’s to come and anticipating it that I like. 

The pandemic gave me a lot of spare time, so I busied myself by working on my Instagram thrift shop. When I was preparing a lookbook, my initial idea was ‘fictional crushes’ and I remembered that Beast Boy from Teen Titans was one of mine, so I revisited the show. 

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It was like a nostalgia train hit me. I binged all 65 episodes and finished the last and fifth season in just a few days. 

Teen Titans started as an escapist fantasy for me when I was a kid. Fighting crime with your friends and superpowers? Sign me up! Revisiting it as a teenager, I realized that it’s still the same feel-good show that takes my mind off stress for 20 minutes at a time. 

I got back into this anime called Hetalia, which is a satirical comedy series that follows historical events. The protagonists are personifications of countries like Germany, Italy, and Japan. I was listening to the old songs from the soundtrack out of nostalgia and fell right back into it. It quickly became a little source of comfort I’d go to during the beginning of quarantine. 

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At 13 years old, I would not shut up about this show. My friends were tired of it, my family was tired of it. I eventually pulled back from the series because I was worried that its silly little premise made me look immature.

But in revisiting it now that I’m older, I’ve learned to embrace it and all the joy it brings me. The show has never failed to lighten my mood. It sounds a bit dumb saying it aloud but coming back to the series and the familiar cast that I loved so much felt like meeting old friends again. 

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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